“Success is not just dependent on before-the-event reasoning, it is also about after-the-trigger adaptation.”
Matthew Syed, Black Box Thinking
A few years ago, I read a book by Matthew Syed called Black Box Thinking. In his own words, Syed described the book as being about “the willingness and tenacity to investigate the lessons that often exist when we fail, but which we rarely exploit.”.
Because I am, like many of you reading this, obsessed with Fantasy Football, last year I wondered whether I do enough self-reflection about my decisions and strategies.
I’m delighted to say that, as part of the Pro Pundits initiative, Fantasy Football Scout
It is my hope that as well as myself – you, the reader, will also learn from my experiences.
After my best ever finish in the 2016/17 season (817th place), the 2017/18 campaign was tainted by a frankly dreadful first 30 weeks or so. I was ranked around the 400k mark with only a handful of weeks to go, and things were looking grim. But, I managed to pull it around and finished with a respectable finish of around 60k.
Some of you may have listened to my Black Box Thinking podcasts last season. I didn’t make as many as I would have liked to – real life got in the way – but I do feel as though my note-taking and pondering over decisions led me to make some better ones towards the end of the season, which ultimately led to a decent finish.
“Hindsight” is a word that I see a lot on the message boards here and on Twitter. It seems to have negative connotations to it. “I wish I had captained x and not y”. To this end, I agree. If you’ve done your research – and you make a sensible choice based on the tried and tested FPL totems of form, fixtures, stats and eye test – then you can’t really beat yourself up if the Gods decide it’s not your time.
But there are certain traps that I fall into time and time again when playing this game, despite it being my 13th season of playing.
Buying players who are rotation risks is one of my signature moves. I’ve been burned by the likes of Pedro (£6.9m), Ilkay Gundogan (£5.2m) and Alexandre Lacazette (£9.3m), as I tried to be clever and “cover” certain teams.
Making outlandish captaincy decisions has also been my downfall. During 2017/18 I captained Jesse Lingard (yes, really) when Harry Kane (£10.9m) got a brace. I also stuck the armband on Richarlison (£7.9m) and watched with hands over my eyes as Mohamed Salah (£12.5m) was thwarted by the opposition goalkeeper time and time again (I got off lightly that time). During 2016/17 I remember captaining a fresh-off-the-physio-table Sergio Aguero (£12.2m) as he blanked against Arsenal, while the man I sold, Diego Costa, racked up a cricket score against Swansea.
These moves are tinged with regret because I know deep down that they were poor decisions. However, when I think about some of my best moments in FPL, they are when I’ve rolled the dice and owned a player who has delivered on the promise that I – and not many others – saw. Pascal Groß (£6.4m) will always be the diamond that I feel I unearthed during my best-ever season. I also have fond memories of when I built a defence entirely around wing-backs. Decisions like this remind me of why I play this game; there’s nothing worse than following the crowd and failing anyway.
So, is it possible to learn from mistakes, to go against your gut because you have learned that that tactic rarely works, but also have fun and back yourself? I think it is. I want to learn to balance my heart, my head, and the devil on my shoulder telling me to do something reckless. I want to start making moves that make sense, that aren’t founded on hopes and dreams. I want to get ahead of the pack playing my own game, but using my experience, successes, and failures to help me make better decisions.
And yet, here I am, eight Gameweeks into the new season and I worry that the same mistakes are still in my system. A few weeks ago, I benched Teemu Pukki (£7.1m) while he ran riot against an injury-ravaged Man City defence, so I could play a Sheffield United defender. I’m in danger of trying to be too clever yet again. At the time of writing, I’ve got Riyad Mahrez (£8.7m) in my squad. I also have no Liverpool attackers.
I’ve instead decided to go for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0m) and Callum Wilson (£7.9m), who up until last week hadn’t recorded a single blank all season. But I’m not sure I really trust Arsenal, or Bournemouth with their new system. I’m concerned that Pep Guardiola’s rotation will catch me out, despite Mahrez looking a strong option with Bernardo Silva (£7.9m) facing a ban. I’m also fearing my selling of Salah when Liverpool are boasting a 100%-win rate and he is still posting some decent stats.
Will I be sat here, writing the next article ruing my decisions? I guess only time will tell, but the Black Box is on and recording – and I intend to learn from it.
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